Several aviation authorities — including the U.S. military — have expressed concern about how auctioned 5G bandwidth is worryingly close to the frequencies used for air navigation, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation submitting requests for the FCC to stop until investigations are carried out.
Aviation officials concerned 5G could cause 'catastrophic' plane crashes
We've waited years for 5G cellular networks to become a reality, and in the process, we've seen unhinged conspiracy theories, wild but true tales of weather reading interference, in addition to the baffling option for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "sell" bandwidth areas to the highest-bidding party.
Some of the potential issues with 5G are normal, since making space in the technological landscape — not to mention the public mentality for another entire data infrastructure — can be a dizzying transition.
The sale of bandwidth is a colossal part of this change — and the most pressing issue to date is the way auctioned bandwidths are crowding out a crucial piece of aviation hardware. This is a problem involving more parties than the military, alone. It's just an example of a group with more to lose than others.
'Bandwidth pollution' from 5G analogous to light pollution
Defense News lays out the situation perfectly: "This particular auction involves spectrum in the 3.7-3.98 GHz frequency, with the hope of selling more than 5,000 new flexible-use overlay licenses. Currently, the 3.7-3.98 GHz frequency portion of the C-Band is relatively quiet, occupied predominantly by low-powered satellites. For decades, this made the neighboring 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency a perfect place for the operation of radar altimeters, which are also called radio altimeters."
In reality, "bandwidth pollution" works a little like light pollution — observers placed 50 miles from a city will still have a bad view of the night sky, speaking astronomically. In the case of bandwidth, altimeters measure how far planes are from the ground — a crucial device at low altitudes, where other instruments aren't useful.
Rollout of 5G may pause for aviation industry evaluation
After 5G telecommunications are active in the 3.7 to 3.98 portion of the bandwidth, these systems will risk causing "harmful interference" to radar altimeters, reported the RTCA in an October study.
On the other hand, the FCC claims the buffer of bandwidth is large enough to run without interfering with altimeters. But concerns remain acute from a telecommunications lobbying group — not to mention the FCC under the leadership of a partisan former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, who stands against net neutrality.
For now, the aviation industry — including commercial, private, and military parties — is requesting a pause in the 5G rollout while it evaluates the potential risks of interference in crucial equipment.